What happens to digital assets when you die?

Our increasing concern about security, privacy and protecting our identities online means that people are taking more care securing their digital assets, including making passwords more complex, not writing them down and changing them regularly. Whilst this is great when you are alive, it can make the task almost impossible for those left dealing with your estate when you die.

Each minute there are around 701,389 Facebook logins, 150 million emails sent, 51,000 downloads from Apple and £156,865 in sales on Amazon. On a digital device; the average person owns 2,678 songs, 42 ebooks and 28 films. This is only going to increase over time. Even back in 2016, UK digital assets were estimated at an astonishing value of £25 billion.

What are your Digital assets?

They can be many things, cryptocurrency you have invested in, all media stored in a phone or ipad, your email account and all it’s contents, your social media accounts, websites you own, files saved on your computer, gambling accounts, online bank accounts, music, software and ebooks you have purchased are all forms of digital asset. You would be hard placed to find an individual without at least one of these items.

As a Personal Representative (PR) of a deceased person, there is a duty to present these assets to HMRC as they are found. Legitimate detective work must be done to establish what is held by the deceased and the value of such items. In the digital world we live in, this is not always a straightforward task.
As part of our future planning service, we advise our clients to consider their digital assets and do what they can to assist their PRs with this task now.

Your digital assets, as a starting point, would be treated the same as we would treat chattels (your personal belongings). You can either make an outright gift of the digital assets or a gift to your executors to distribute in accordance with a Memorandum of Wishes. The questions to be considered are:

  • Do you have online bank accounts?
  • Do you access social networking sites and have personal pages?
  • What email accounts are registered to you?

A suggestion could be that these details and a list of any digital assets can be kept securely in the form of a note with your Will.

If you do not leave clear instructions regarding your digital assets your PRs may not be able to gain access. We would strongly advise not to include any passwords in your Will itself as once the Will has been proven it becomes a public document. Also, bear in mind that if a PR attempts to login as the deceased they could be committing an offence under the Computer Misuse Act 1990. To understand post-death access, a PR would be best advised to refer to the relevant terms of the service agreements.

Generally, PRs will need to supply a Death Certificate or Grant of Probate and identification to gain access to online accounts.


How can we help?

You can find out more about the Probate process by clicking here. Or, you can contact Jodie Hogg directly at jodie.sainsbury@herrington-carmichael.com.


This reflects the law at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought as appropriate in relation to a particular matter. 

Graeme Black
Partner, Private Wealth & Inheritance
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This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

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